On the menu today: Sure, there will be furious fights on Capitol Hill in the coming days, but on the last Tuesday of 2020, let’s lighten things up by looking at a silly celebrity story that some people will attempt to turn into a culture-war flashpoint. A famous actor’s wife that you probably never heard of before this week has apparently been pretending to be Latina.
If Nothing Else Goes Right, At Least You Know Who You Are
As 2020 comes to a close, hopefully your life is doing okay — or maybe much better than okay. Maybe you’re frustrated with your state’s poorly thought out quarantine restrictions. Hopefully no one you know is sick or in the hospital. Maybe you’re having frustrations at work, or the holidays reminded you of frustrations and issues in your family. Your kids may or may not be going back to school in January.
But whatever problems you have, you probably haven’t spent years building up a public persona of a Latina because you’re not happy with who you actually are. No matter what else happens in life, at least you’ve got that.
On Sunday morning, a now-restricted-access thread on Twitter laid out all the ways through which Hilaria Baldwin, the wife of actor Alec Baldwin, a yoga instructor, author, podcaster, and the kind of celebrity who managed to escape my attention until this week did that very thing.
Born Hillary Hayward-Thomas, apparently Mrs. Baldwin reinvented her entire life — a bit like The Great Gatsby.
Baldwin’s own bio on her agency’s speakers site states that she was born on the island of Mallorca, Spain, and raised in Boston. Her 2016 interview with Hola! magazine also stated: “Hilaria, who was born in Spain, has made certain to raise her children with her native language, Spanish.”
During TV appearances, she has spoken with a pronounced Spanish accent, and on one occasion during a cooking segment, she even seemingly forgot the English word for “cucumber.”
Although Baldwin is listed as an alum of the Cambridge School of Weston in Weston, Massachusetts, she told “Motherhood, Marriage & Miscarriages” in April that she moved to New York from Spain when she was 19 to attend NYU: “I came for school and I never, ever left.”
Various other former high-school and college classmates came forward, saying they remembered her as the “archetypal northeastern prep schooler.” The examples and video clips on the Twitter thread seemed pretty convincing — that at some point, Hillary Hayward-Thomas decided she wanted to emphasize her Spanish heritage, to almost comical extremes.
Few people would care that a yoga instructor and author was pretending to be Latina if she was not married to Alec Baldwin, who’s been something of a big deal since The Hunt for Red October.
You could say the eldest Baldwin brother is something of a volatile personality. He was arrested for assaulting a photographer, was thrown off an American Airlines flight after an argument with a flight attendant, was arrested for disorderly conduct in 2014, arrested for assault in 2018 after an altercation about a parking space, and famously told his then-eleven-year-old daughter she was a “rude, thoughtless little pig” in a voicemail.
Alec Baldwin took to Instagram to fume that Twitter was worthless, “it’s a big swap meet” with “used coasters” for sale for a quarter, that it’s a “vast orchard of crap,” and urging people, with no specific rebuttal or counter to the accusations, to “consider the source.”
“You have to consider the source. We live in a world now where we’re hidden behind the anonymity of social media,” Baldwin growled in his familiar raspy voice.
People feel like they can say anything. They can say anything. They probably would like to do anything, if they weren’t at risk of getting caught and going to prison, because they can’t do that, because that involves real commitment to do something. To express those feelings. They say things, no profile picture . . . no identifying features there, hidden behind the anonymity of social media, you know (blows) They want to just shoot it all over you, spray it all over you, their venom and their hate. There are things that are said lately about people I love, who I care about deeply, that are just ridiculous. I mean, just ridiculous. Consider the source. Consider the source. If something comes on from TMZ, don’t watch it. TMZ is a sewage treatment plant. TMZ is just one giant vat of garbage. If the New York Post, writes something, that’s just one — it’s another sewage treatment plant. Consider the source. Consider the source.
(Baldwin thinks and sounds more like the president he impersonates and loathes than he would ever be willing to admit.)
Over in the New York Post, Maureen Callahan compares Baldwin to Rachel Dolezal and Elizabeth Warren and other cases of people, usually “white” or of European ancestry, choosing to create some new exotic alternate identity.
I suppose right now someone on the left is furiously typing up a 5,000-word treatise accusing Hilaria Baldwin of cultural appropriation. Over at Vox, Alex Abad-Santos writes,
Her critics argue that, knowing what we now know about her real American roots, Hilaria accepting offers and publicity from magazines and outlets geared toward Spanish and Latinx people was a conscious decision. That decision meant taking up space from actual Spanish and Latinx people.
But what Hilaria Baldwin is accused of doing is not a crime; she just looks kind of silly. There’s nothing wrong with being an “archetypal northeastern prep schooler.” No one chooses their lineage, race, their parents, or when and where they’re born. (This is the fundamental reason why racism, sexism, xenophobia, or disdain for the handicapped is wrong; it confers a moral judgment against people based upon something they cannot control.)
People don’t control their upbringing. They have to make the most of what fate has given them, and some of us are blessed and some of us are thrown great challenges early in life. Most of us want two opposing forces at once: the blessings of the easier path, but also the credit that is given to those who overcome those great challenges on the harder path. And most people’s lives are some mix of blessings and challenges. Some children in poor families are raised in an environment of love, and some children raised by rich families have lots of ugly problems hidden behind closed doors. The chances are good that the luckiest person you know had something to overcome that they rarely discuss, and it’s equally likely that the unluckiest person you know has some hidden strength or source of that keeps them going through the hard times. Health, wealth, prestige, family, finding love . . . very few of us hit home runs in every category.
(This is one of the many reasons why conversations about “white privilege” rarely reach any productive conclusion. Nonwhites point to everything from cab drivers not stopping for African-American men to generations of inherited wealth and contend that being born white confers a person with all kinds of subtle but distinct advantages in life. Whites look at all of the other situations in life where their skin color gives them no advantage and get offended or angered at the accusation that they’re enjoying the fruits of some unfair benefit. Or some whites see other, even more powerful unfair advantages — such as nepotism — and get irked that the focus is so easily diverted to a discussion of skin color.)
We’re constantly told that appearances can be deceiving, and not to judge a book by its cover, but we live in a society that constantly judges people by their appearances. Is it any wonder that people would attempt to control their image and alter the way people see and think about them?
Hilaria Baldwin is getting her turn as a punching bag because she’s a convenient target. Plenty of conservatives already find Alec Baldwin insufferable and enjoy the spectacle of his wife looking ridiculous. They already thought celebrities were a bunch of hypocritical phonies and will celebrate any chance to further paint Hollywood as a deranged royal court of narcissistic fools. Meanwhile, plenty of liberals love denouncing the hypocrisy of a rich white woman pretending to be an ethnic minority. And as Callahan demonstrates, there is great glee to be found in mocking what she calls “a yoga-loving fawn in the New York City jungle who was definitely, totally not interested in social climbing or landing a rich, famous, older husband.”
And yet . . . it’s Hilaria Baldwin’s life. If she wants to pretend to be Latina, what difference does it make in our lives? She’s not Brian Williams, making up and exaggerating stories on the evening news. (And you see how minimally Williams’s career was derailed by his fabulism.) No one else’s life was really changed by Hilaria claiming to have been born in Spain or pretending she didn’t know the English word for “cucumber.” She didn’t lie on her taxes or under oath in a courtroom. She has no official duties in government, she doesn’t control a powerful corporation, and she didn’t have a huge bestseller based upon a hoax. She’s just a celebrity’s wife who turned into a minor celebrity herself — some would say, “very minor” — who’s been caught playing a persona she presumably thought was more interesting and appealing than her true self.
Lots of people try to adjust their accents; My Fair Lady is all about how the way you speak determines your class and how people see and treat you. Speaking with a fake accent isn’t all that different from plastic surgery, or wearing lifts, or coloring her hair — it is an effort to change the way other people perceive her. No, it’s not 100 percent honest. Neither is a Wonderbra. A lot of the time, almost everyone’s happier with the illusion.
And if you think you’ve got problems in your life, think of Hilaria Baldwin. At the end of the day, she’s still married to Alec Baldwin.